Wednesday, June 30, 2010

This is my favorite spot on the ship. Starboard aft deck 7... used as the preschool kids' play area during the school year, but virtually unused now. Today was a rough day because of two things: 1) I was running on less than 3 hours of sleep. (Got to bed later than usual and tossed and turned all night.) 2.) Our department said goodbye to Caitlin P. who is returning home to Seattle after 5 months of service here.

About 2pm I just couldn't handle it any longer and took my afternoon break early. I came out here and swung for who knows how long and just thought.

Swings are not just for children... but really, I am always someone's child.

Just because the swing holds me when I sit in it doesn't guarantee that it will continue to hold me once I start swinging. But if I sit there in fear, then I will never get to swing.

When you're a "big girl" there's no one to push you anymore. But isn't that why Dad taught me how to push with my legs... because he knew that he wouldn't always be there every single time I need him in life. 

It may be hot outside, but start swinging and I end up creating the breeze that keeps me cool.

I can push/pull on the chains to make myself go, but it's more efficient to use the "big muscles" in my legs.

When I go too high there's a built-in "warning system" that snaps you back down into the seat at the height of each swing. Go too much higher and it gets scary.

Don't jump off a moving swing. Wait for it to slow or drag my feet to slow down faster, but don't ever jump off.

*Seems like today God had a lot to teach me about swings... and life*

My home at sunset...

And the sunset itself (from Deck 8)



*what a way to end the day...*

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Please pray for peace here in Togo. We expect more and larger protests this week, all somewhat centering around the rising gas prices (go figure). Shore leave may be canceled (aka we're stuck on this floating box), but things are still uncertain. At least this week we are preparing for any disturbances, unlike last week when it was a bit of a surprise.

A SIM missionary family from northern Togo (I've met them through a friend) is planning on coming down to Lome for a few weeks' retreat. They are planning on visiting me/the ship this weekend, but that may all be cancelled because the protests/road blocks are expected to be nation-wide. I would love to meet this family in person and I know they are all looking forward to some time at "the beach," so pray that things settle down SOON!

Again, we are all safe. Everything's fine. The Captain and Chief Security Officer are amazing. God is in control. Just please pray.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Quantity and Quality

Today was all about quantity...

I cleaned and set up 3 guest cabins by myself this morning. It takes about an hour to get all the old linens/towels out and up to the laundry room (deck 6), wash the mugs/cups in the crew galley (deck 6), clean the bathroom with supplies from the linen closet (deck 5), remake the beds with sets of pressed linens from the Hospitality office (deck 5), and refill the coffee/tea-making supplies from the dining room (deck 5)... lots of running from one end of the ship to the other. :-)

This afternoon I made 4 batches of pumpkin bread... it made 5 loaves and 36 muffins. We had a #10 can of pumpkin and we pretty much have to use it all at once. That's perfect because the Chaplaincy is planning a ship-wide women's event Saturday morning and we're providing refreshments.

This evening I finally had a chance to attend the Monday night aerobics group in the International Lounge. We move 5 rows of chairs and put in a DVD on the two huge projection screens. I definitely did not do all the moves the "correct" way, but it's all about quantity and keeping moving/HR up, not movement quality, right? :) I am going to be SO sore tomorrow... not looking forward to climbing all those stairs...

But I'm reminded that even though we do things on a huge scale here on the ship, it all has to be done right. Most of the guests that come in have never been here before... and in Hospitality we are in charge of first impressions. The beds must be made correctly, the chrome bathroom fixtures have to be free from water spots, the cookies they get when they check in must be fresh, their tour must be done thoroughly and professionally (OK, the tour's a maritime requirement, not a Mercy Ships one)...

*it's all about quantity... and quality*

Sunday, June 27, 2010


Me, Julie, Damaris, Becky, Silke, Julie

"poking out" from our respective compartments... the room-darkening curtains around each bunk compartment are amazing! When Silke leaves in 2 weeks I'm hoping to move to the back compartment--it's a lot bigger! (Oh, and the green sign on the wall reads "Herzliche Wilkommen, Silke" for all you German speakers)


the beach... finally!

This weekend has been exciting... finally getting to do some of the things that others usually do on their first few days off...

On Saturday, I still had the Duty Hostess pager, and got 2 early morning pages before I handed it off to Caitlin W. at 9am. Then, after a glorious breakfast of homemade French toast (eggs bought from the ship shop on Friday, bread from Saturday's breakfast I skipped, and milk from the boxes sitting in the crew galley), I got my laundry done, (I'm so glad I have 2+ weeks of clothes with me... doing laundry takes forever!) and then sat down to do some GRE studying... working my way through the analogies practice sections.

I went to Sarakowa after lunch with Gabriella, and we met up with a huge group of "Mercy Shippers" there. Sarakowa is a resort a few miles down the beach road and many of the crew go there for a nice sit by the pool, good food, and a place to relax/forget you're in Africa. It's usually 11,000F ($22) for a day pass, but we get a discount to 3,000F for a weekend day pass. I really enjoyed the bigger-than-Olympic-sized pool, and the clouds kept it about 80*, but it felt kind of strange to be there. IDK.

Last night--more GRE studying... this is going to take a lot more work... not fun... would appreciate your prayers!

This morning I went to church at Action Chapel with a group. We got there about 8:30am and left finally at almost noon. The service was different than I expected; there was very little dancing and most of the service was in English, then translated into French. There were about 300 people there. It was neat to see all of the men dressed in suits, pressed pants, shined shoes, and ties... the ladies mostly wore African dresses, and a few of the girls had a typical frilly dress like American little girls would wear. They really make a big deal about wearing your "Sunday best!"

 Today, they celebrated Father's Day because last Saturday's heavy rains flooded the church building and few people showed up for the service. The message--given by the pastor's wife today--was all about the responsibilities of fathers to their wives, children, and colleagues. It was good to see the men treating to women well and valuing their wives... definitely not the usual here in Africa.

I will say that without the use of any electronics--excepting microphones and an electric piano--their service was the most "multimedia" I've ever seen! A drama about two fathers and the ways they treated their families; one good and one bad, a recitation of Isaiah 53 as one of the men reenacted Christ carrying the cross to Calvary, the choir singing an a cappella special song for the occasion, and the congregation row by row chanting and dancing up to the front to put their offerings in the basket... 

We got back to the ship a few minutes after noon and at 1pm I was on my way to Coco Beach with a group of short-term girls. This beach is behind a small resort and usually costs 1,000F to get in (that includes a Coke), but Mercy Ships crew gets in free. The beach was clean, the sand was glorious, and the barrier wall about 200' out from the beach broke the huge waves and created a riptide-free swimming area. Man, that water is salty!!! Oh, but it was so nice to swim out there... made me really miss my family's
days at Changi Sailing Club in Singapore! Then back to the resort restaurant for a dish of chocolate ice cream--that was amazing! Read a few more chapters of Pride & Prejudice, fell asleep in the sand, and woke up pretty sunburned... :-) Ah well...

On the way back, our driver Eric wanted to show us "Mercy Ships Grocery Store," a local mini mart that the owner named after us. :-) After about 15 minutes of driving we reached some 3' deep puddles in the road. The Land Rover we were in was not specially equipped for deeper waters, so we had to turn back before we reached the store. :( But on the way home we passed "Jesus Christ is Lord Tire Rotation," "El-Shaddai Coiffure (hairdresser," and I've heard of the "Blessings Bar."

We were rumbling down a very bumpy road (by bumpy I mean you bounce off the seat with each rut and the road looks like a mogul court in dirt instead of snow. There is no possible way to evade the puddles, pot holes, and ruts... thank goodness for Land Rovers) when we passed a man rolling a Fan Milk cart. These guys are the African equivalent of the ice cream man. We stopped in the middle of the road, one of the girls leaned out of her window and whistled at the guy who came running over with his cart. For 50F we each got a packet of  vanilla ice cream. To eat this amazingly-delicious treat you have to bite off the corner of the plastic package, then squeeze/suck out the ice cream--like you'd eat a ice pop.

We got stuck behind a huge line of trucks just before we entered the port and one of the local young men swung up on the ladder on the back of the Land Rover. He just wanted to hitch a free ride for a few kilometers... but thankfully Eric leaned out of his window and shouted at him, "Hey man! Get off!"... and he did. :-)

Then back to the ship--lasagna and rice pudding tonight. That shower was amazing... who likes that sandy feeling? :)

Tomorrow, work starts bright at early at 8am... oh boy... here's to the next 7 days of work (I'm on duty all next weekend).

*I will always be a Toyota fan, but I think Land Rover is my new favorite... they'll get you out of anything*

Friday, June 25, 2010

The end of week 2

Today is my first day on duty. Thankfully, it's been quiet. No tours to give. One page so far. And two arrivals tonight. (Thankfully they're staff at the Mercy Ships HQ and have been to the ship many times before). In just a few minutes I must set a table in the dining room, make a plate of cookies, get their embarkation forms ready, and change into my white/black uniform.

Their plane lands at 7pm, and who knows when they'll be here. Traffic has been rather horrible today as people return to work after the protests and demonstrations stopped normal life for 3 days... it's usually about an hour from arrival to me escorting them to their cabins... let's hope the airport pick up is not delayed and I can be done at a reasonable hour. I've heard rumors of it taking 4 hours to get to the airport... which is like 5 miles away.

Today has been an interesting day. It started out great, turned awful pretty quickly, then got better, then got really bad, then I got off work early.

This morning's devotions was a programs reporting from the rehab department. I got to see pictures of club feet patients, learn a little about their therapy, and introduce myself to Joanne who is one of the two PTs. I was excited to actually learn more about PT. :-)

Today our team just wasn't getting along. Maybe it was me. Maybe it was one of the girls chomping at the bit to leave for a weekend in Ghana. Maybe it was just the end of the week. IDK.

Gabriella checked some of the guest cabins we cleaned yesterday and had a list of stuff for us to redo. They weren't any of the cabins I had cleaned, and they were things that weren't even on the checklist nor had we been instructed that we were supposed to clean such items... so it was a little bit disheartening to hear all the things we had done wrong.

At 9:30am we set up for the New Crew Tea hosted by the Chaplain's department. Abi, Jenny, and I were there with Signe and Elin, two girls from Norway. It was kind of weird to set out cookies and make coffee for a function I was attending! But then I cleaned up and washed all the cups and plates in 15 minutes.. by myself, so that made me happy. I'm getting more efficient and am remembering better where things go and how to set up/tear down for functions. So that was my happy time.

We usually have department devos at 12:45, but there was a sign on the door saying, "Hosp. dept. devos in the Int'l longe @ 1" OK... what is going on? We all go up there and it looks like we're going to watch a video. I'm like... great. Another spiritual message. I swear I'm gonna fall asleep... oh boy... Turns out that Gabriella read Luke 15, the passage about the lost sheep. And then Kathy put in the DVD... "Finding Nemo!" We all looked at each other in disbelief. Sarah had been really disappointed that although she'd reserved the Queen's Lounge to watch a "Finding Nemo" with friends last night, someone else had refused to honor that reservation and so they weren't able to watch it. Kathy knew she was really disappointed and frustrated about it all, we had a pretty slow afternoon, and we all needed a break from working with each other... it was a blissful 2 hours!

Today was also Peter, the Chief Steward's, birthday. We decided to make him a large cookie cake... but we had several different ideas about how to pipe on the icing to write "Happy Birthday." I filled the pastry bag and was planning on doing it the same way we learned in cake decorating class at EXCEL 3 years ago, but another girl decided she wanted to do it. OK, that's totally fine. I suggested a few hints, got a short response, and finally decided to leave before I blew up at her. It took FOREVER to get the icing on there and all the while I'm thinking... I could have done it faster. I wonder what it's gonna look like. I hope they don't mess it up... 

Later, during the crew-wide party, I went up and apologized to her. Turns out she was frustrated that us other girls had kind of butted into her project since she was the one to make the cookie dough this morning. OK, I could see her point... so we sorted that out.

Kathy and I cleaned up after the party (she'd told us we could take the rest of the day off after the party, and so they all left... leaving a pretty big mess) and then I took "Pride & Prejudice" up to deck 8, got some vitamin D (sorry, folks. Looks like that African tan isn't gonna happen with all the time I spend inside), and enjoyed feeling cold with the pretty strong breeze up there. Feels like it's gonna storm tonight. :-)

So yeah. I still love the department, and some days I get along really well with the girls. Some days different ones of them have picked their favorite girl for the day and they do every cabin, every errand, and every function set up together. It's kind of strange, considering I'm the youngest one in the department by almost 2 years!

This weekend looks promising, though. I've got eggs and milk in the fridge for french toast tomorrow morning. Sccheduled a laundry slot for 10am. Gonna go to Sarakowa (the fancy-smancy resort with a nice pool and wifi where I can stream/download stuff) with a few girls. Then back here for some much-needed sleep and GRE studying.

Sunday I'm off to a local church for worship. Then nothing the rest of the day until Community Meeting at 7pm. Abi and Jenny are in Northern Togo for the weekend, so it's pretty quiet around here. Maybe I'll check out one of the Lord of the Rings extended editions and spend my time between that and tons of GRE studying... and a few cups of good English tea.

*gonna need an emotional recharge before Monday comes*

Saying goodbye

It's hard to believe that I've been here for two weeks... but this weekend several of the dear friends we flew in with are going home. :( I'm on duty from 8am this morning to 8am Saturday morning and I will be checking them all out.

(All pictures are from Frances' camera... mine's been having battery issues...)

Simon and Liza


It's been really sweet to see Ruth and Frances get together for tea every evening after they get off work, finish dinner, or come in from a day out and about. Maybe when I'm their age, I'll be making new friends also serving in medical missions.

These four have been so sweet to "adopt" me, let me sit with them at meals, chat over a cup of coffee or tea, tell me stories about the ward and the dental clinic, and laugh with me.

*I will miss them tons*

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The last three days...

The last few days have been rather busy--each day is a new adventure!

*woke up late (8am) and went to Ward Church in B ward. There were a ton of crew members there and about 10 patients. I stood in the back and clapped along with the African praise songs all sung in French. After about 30 minutes of worship 12 ladies from the ward next door came in and their gorgeous dresses suddenly brightened the room! These women are VVF patients who have undergone a repair/reconstruction surgery and about 10 days of post-op care. They each receive a new dress and are then able to go home dry... sometimes it's the first time in 20 years!

*caught the Mercy Ships shuttle to the Seaman's Club just outside the port. Simon and Liza-- a sweet couple from the UK, Frances--another older lady from the UK, Ruth--a single young woman from NZ, and my new roommate from Ohio, Julie also came along. Simon ordered for us and after about 45 minutes the food showed up! My first real African meal! It was a marinated beef kabob, rice, and a slightly spicy tomato-ey sauce to go over the rice. Amazing food and I was so hungry!

*the group decided to go to the craft fair I'd been to the day before and it was fun to see all the stalls again.

*Got back to the ship in time for dinner, then started watching the 5 hour Pride&Prejudice with Abi. :-)

*we made a ton of cabins up. One of the crew families lent us their 12 year-old daughter to us for the week and so Grace helped me clean the hospitality pantry in the afternoon. The floor was absolutely atrocious because of the galley staff who tromp through there at least 50 times a day, so Kathy asked me to scrub the floor. I felt a little like I was swabbing the deck. :-) And I woke up sore this morning from it!

*lunch was leftovers from Friday's dinner. Spaghetti and canned peas. Reheated. Not at all what I wanted. Not at all tasty. I was sitting at a small table near one of the portholes and I almost started to cry. I was tired of doing cabins by myself because some of the girls are a bit exclusive, frustrated with the lack of initiative, damp from the scrubbing water splashing all over me... and then the food. Then I remembered that I had a plate of leftovers from the Vision Trip luncheon up in the hospitality fridge... and there was a Mountain Dew in my room I'd bought when the shipping container arrived last week. So, up to the crew galley for the microwave, and out to deck 8 to sit in peace and eat.

*spent the rest of the afternoon on the pantry floor and then tackled the monstrous pile of ironing to be done.

*dinner was pretty good. I sat down at a table by myself and soon Kathy joined me. Then the ship academy principle came over and joined us as well. Both of them made me laugh! Kathy and I then sat there in the dining room and talked for 2.5 hours! Totally unplanned and totally what both of us needed. She told me about her days "B.M.S" (before Mercy Ships) and some of her experiences aboard the Caribbean Mercy and the Anastasis.

*as soon as I got to work I volunteered to make up a bed in a cabin up on deck 7. These are the original 1950s cabins from when the ship was a rail ferry and the cabins are used mainly by engineers and deck hands. They've been renovated, but the bathrooms still look like they're 60 years old. Think speckled tile and orange porcelain sink. I went in to make the bed and do a quick vacuum... take a look at the bathroom and realize it was never cleaned after the last occupant. Back down to deck 5 to get cleaning supplies, up to deck 6 to get rags from the laundry room, then start to tackle the tile grout... realize after 45 minutes it's a hopeless cause and the softscrub I was using contains bleach... :P

*The Swiss Mercy Ships office director came last week with the Vision Trip and he's stayed on to do a videography project. He's been taking 360* pictures of many different places on the ship for use on the new Swiss Mercy Ships site. (Think Google Maps street view. You can use your mouse to scroll all the way around, then click farther down the road, you jump to there and you can do another 360* there). He'd come into the Hospitality office yesterday in search of a new pillowcase or towel or something and started telling us about the project. We all admitted that it would be nice to have a shot of a 6-berth cabin--the youtube video tour only shows a 4-berth cabin--with a porthole and sitting area. It kind of disheartens crew when they expect something like that and end up on deck 4 in a 10-berth cabin. He thought that was a great idea and so we shot the picture this afternoon. I was one of the "warm bodies" he used and it was quite an experience to stay still throughout all of the photographs. If you move between shots, the computer has a hard time stitching them together and you end up with a blurry mess for the photoshop guy to deal with. That was a fun time of laughs and joking about jump-starting our Hollywood careers! The "virtual ship" should be online in August, I'll keep you posted.

*I spent the entire afternoon with a wonderful friend... a full-metal Husqvarna sewing machine. There was a huge pile of sheets/pillowcases/towels/duvet covers that needed small holes repaired or seams re-sewn... and Kathy didn't have the time to do it. I volunteered and she gladly acquiesced the entire big blue plastic IKEA bag of mending to me. After deciphering the Dutch operating manual in an effort to figure out what knob controlled the stitch length and zigzag/straight stitch I had a happy afternoon.

*Tuesday nights are African food. Or as African as you can get when you make food for 400 crew, 200 day volunteers, and 50 patients. My salad and Nutella sandwich was great. :) I'm reading Pride & Prejudice and I spent a lovely mealtime with Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy, and Elizabeth Bennett.

*The Crew Services department showed Louie Giglio's "Indescribable" tonight. Wow... He mentioned a letter he received from Joe Tanner, an astronaut who's serviced the Hubble Space Telescope--Mr. Tanner's been out to the ALERT campus before as a quest speaker and I had a chuckle when Louie mentioned his name. :-)

So yeah... the "honeymoon period" is over. I still love it here, though. After talking with Kathy last night I realized there is NO WAY I can go back to the States and work in a PT clinic 9-5 after graduate school. I would die in that environment. Who knows where God is leading, but all I know is that He's got some amazing plans for me up His sleeve--just the day to day in Hospitality is sometimes hard.

Please pray for Togo. There's been some unrest here today--nothing out of the ordinary so BBC probably has not picked it up--but it's put a kink into the plans for the field eye team and dental clinic. Everyone was restricted to the ship and for quite a while today, IT shut down the ship's internet. (Mainly to keep people from Facebooking, "Tweeting," and blogging any specifics about the situation and who might still be off-ship and unaccounted for yet.) I am amazed at the Captain and Chief Security Officer's handling of the situation and trust that all will be back to normal within a few days. At this point there are riots all around Lome and they're unlike the normal demonstrations that ALWAYS happen. We're totally safe here in port, and the great thing about being on a ship is that we can just sail away if worse comes to worse. We're on good terms with the embassy and the Togolese government, so we're pretty safe. But it's hard when the day volunteers may not be able to get home, we're restricted the the ship proper and the accompanying pier, and all of the Mercy Teams and field medical teams can't do their jobs. That's all I can say right now, but I'll keep you updated as much as I'm allowed to.

*scrubbing tile showers IS making a dent in poverty and oppression... somehow. I AM changing a life... somehow.*

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Day off...

This morning I went with 9 other girls to a orphanage in northern Lome. It took about 45 minutes to get there, but it was proabably only 20 miles away... you would not believe the roads! Everything's red dirt, the rainy season makes huge puddles and leaves large ruts when the road dries, the potholes are about 8" deep and 3' across, and traffic has no rhyme or reason! Sorry, no pictures to post... it's an agreement that Mercy Ships has made with any Mercy Team outreach... but I have lots of pictures in my mind.

Anyway, there were about 25 children at this center and a Mercy Team from the ship comes each week for a few hours on Saturday mornings. We got there and helped the children move the benches to the outer walls and then sat among them. We started off with a few songs they had learned this past week at "summer camp" and even though they sang in French, we got to clap along and smile like we knew what they were saying! Then they sang, "Seek Ye First" and we all joined in with "A-le-lu, a-le-lu-jah" at the end! :)

Then Stephanie, our team coordinator, told the story of Noah through a translator. Emmanuel got into the story and sometimes he would turn the translation into a question for them to answer. It probably went something like this:

STEPHANIE: "Noah obeyed God and took two of EVERY animal into his boat."

EMMANUEL: "Noah obeyed God. What animals were on the boat?"

CHILDREN (shouting all at once): "les chiens! les chats! les tigres! les éléphant! les singe!" (dogs, cats, tigers, elephants, monkeys)

Stephanie asked one of the older boys to act out Noah and he pulled some of the older children into his "boat". These "family members" then recruited pairs of children as various animals. Aleah and I became "les éléphants" and the little girls beside us joined the group in the middle as meowing cats. :-)

After the story we each colored large cutouts of animals. Stephanie handed pictures of a chicks to me and the girl across from me. I found a yellow coloring pencil in the bag we'd brought and sat down to color... soon the other girl came back with a yellow pencil too and started coloring hers the same way. I picked up the orange pencil to color in the beak and feet--she did the same. :-) When all the children pasted their colorings on the posterboard boat we put on the wall they made sure to pair up the animals. Our two chicks looked almost identical! It was fun to see the children color animals the correct colors even though they've never seen giraffes or dolphins!

We had a few minutes to play with the children some of the games we'd brought and then it was time to go. But as soon as we piled into the land rover to come home we found out we had a dead battery. Twenty minutes later Emmanuel had managed to find someone with jumper cables and the orphanage director pulled his car around. None of the 8 men that came around knew anything about jumping a car! It was quite a fiasco to try to convince them that you really can charge a battery, that you must connect the cables in a certain way, and that it's not easier to exchange the batteries, start the land rover, and then change the batteries back while the land rover was running... wow... things I think are common sense are not so common.

We finally got back to the ship, scarfed down our sack lunches (the kitchen's closed for weekend lunch and so you pack a sandwich at breakfast), and got back into two other land rovers for a trip to two markets. This weekend the Peace Corps organized an artisan's market and it was fun to see all the Togolese handiwork! 

One stall sold gorgeous batik fabric bags, shirts, and decorative items... We tried to bargain but to no avail! I was about to walk away from a super-cute lime green/turquoise bag and finally decided to buy it. I paid 8,000F for it (1,000 cefa is about $2 USD)... overpriced a bit, but it was very nice handiwork and it was obvious that the lady working the stall was only a worker for the batik company and she was not allowed to reduce prices. (I promised myself that was the last time I fell for the fixed price scheme!)

We then went to a local market that only had some tourist flavor. Sorry, no pics either... my camera died... :P One stall sold custom shoes and upon the urging of several other crew members, I decided to buy a pair of pretty green leather sandals. (What's up with this green fling?) The man drew a tracing of my foot and I'll go back next weekend to pick them up. Then I found a few hand-painted cards a few stalls down. Melissa and I walked into one stall that sold beads and beaded jewelry. We found a few pretty pieces but weren't willing to pay 5,000F for each necklace... sorry Mom! :-)

There was a small fabric store there too, but I wasn't willing to pay 4,000F for a 4-metre piece... Kathy told me that she'll take me to a huge fabric store where I can pay 4,000 for 6 or 8 metres of nice quality batik or traditional African fabric. :-) And one of the day workers in the E Ward eye clinic is a tailor! Here's to coming home with a traditional African dress. Something a bit like this, maybe.

We got back to the ship about 4:30pm and I jumped into the shower then headed up to dinner. Long day, lots of dust, lots of new stuff... and it was a very welcome sight to come back into the port and see the huge white ship. As much as I'm coming to love the gorgeous African people and their culture I still love my clean clothes, hot shower, familiar food, and electricity!

It's 9:04pm and I'm off to bed... going to Ward church tomorrow!

*if you're gonna bargain at the market, you have to be able to walk away from the item. Once you "have to have it" they have you hooked!*

The view from Deck 8

This is the engine stack on the top of deck 8. Most of the Africa Mercy pictures in Mercy Ships publications (like my blog header!) are old and still show the old logo.

The flag of Malta, the country Mercy Ships sails under. Long complicated reason why... basically, Malta allows a multi-nationality crew, if we flew under the US flag then a few of the key officers and something like 50% of the crew must be America citizens... at present there are 34 nationalities on board!
 The view from aft Deck 8... my favorite dinner spot. This port opens straight to the open sea which makes for a fair amount of ship movement even while moored.
The aft port-side view. Some days there are very few ships waiting... other days, like this, there are tons in line on the horizon. And the beach looks beautiful, but it's off-limits to crew per both Mercy Ships security and the US Embassy warnings based on recent muggings. :( So the crew uses a resort beach farther down the coast. 

 The sun setting... at about 6:15pm... This is the view forward from the stern. The raised portion roped off in green mesh is the new swimming pool. Obviously, a maritime architect did not design it; the pool's unusable for now because  it's situated perpendicular to the ship and the slightest rocking in dock causes huge waves that could swamp a child's head. It's probably 10 feet deep and only half full now because of all the water that's sloshed out. The crew's hoping to get it fixed during the ship's stay in South Africa later this year.

This is the forward port-side view. Behold the Togolese Navy... all two ships and two speed boats of them! They've been docked there since I arrived a week ago and only this afternoon did the boat in the left of the picture head out...

*when you have a view like this, you can ALMOST forgive not having a porthole in your cabin*

Hospitality Department

So, this is my lovely team. Gabriela is long-term crew and is from Slovakia. "Roses," short for Rosemary, is from the UK and spent many years in Nepal growing up. The other four of us are from "the States." Caitlin W.'s from Seattle, and Caitilin W.'s from Rhode Island, I believe. Sarah's actually from Tyler, and we've had a few good laughs about small town life. Kathy's the department head and Roses was the Head Hostess. She's now switching over to be Dining Room Manager and Gabriella will replace her.

It's a bit funny to have a department of all girls, but we don't mind at all. And my height makes me perfectly suitable for making top bunks, getting boxes off shelves, and putting pitchers away in the top cupboards! 

*Who needs guys when you get to work with these amazing ladies all day!*

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Of functions, food, and Frenchmen

Today has been quite a day in the Hospitality department! We had 4 functions to set up for, serve, and take down... as well as two birthdays, a tour, and a few cabins to ready for new crew.

This morning while I was in the 2nd day of New Crew Training the other girls set up for our coffee break. This involved rearranging some of the tables and chairs in the midship Deck 6 lounge, roping off the section so those watching the World Cup wouldn't move things around, setting up plates of cookies, arranging the table with coffee mugs and glasses, and setting up the water pitchers and coffee/tea thermoses. After the group was done and we headed back into training sessions they tore everything down and washed all the cups... by hand.

The girls also had to set up the Queen's Lounge for a fancy luncheon for the Vision Trip guests. These guests come to the ship in groups of about 15, led by a representative from one of the national Mercy Ships offices; this trip was from Switzerland. These are potential donors and are treated very nicely during their 4-day stay. A few of the couples speak English fairly well, and because they recognize me from when they first arrived on the ship, they stop to make conversation as we pass in the halls or on the stairs.

They had a beautiful lunch on china and fancy tablecloths, silverware, and water glasses. While the rest of the crew had macaroni&cheese, they had chicken cordon bleu, scalloped potatoes (which at this time of year are expensive and hard to find  because of the rainy season), and a fancy chocolate souffle with raspberry sauce prepared by Kathy, the department head.

I got back to work at 1pm, just in time to start on the dishes which we washed in the small kitchen just off the Queen's Lounge. Then all the clean dishes had to go back in the cabinets in one room, the leftovers in a fridge in the Hospitality galley on the other end of the ship, the table cloths taken to the laundry, and the room rearranged. But us girls each got a taste of the chocolate souffle... amazingness! (And we got a plate of leftover chicken cordon bleu for lunch on Saturday instead of the pack-your-own sandwich the crew normally gets)

At 2:30pm we again set up for coffee and cookies for a tour coming through. One of the French Navy vessels, the Mistral, has been docked next to us for a few days. This morning small groups of our crew got to tour their ship, and they came over this afternoon. A group of about 20 of them were all dressed in their white uniforms and one of our French-speaking crew members gave them a complete tour. It was rather funny to joke with the dining room and galley girls about the "cute Frenchmen coming aboard!" All in good fun... most of them didn't speak a word of English we came to find out!

As soon as they left we washed all the coffee cups and water glasses, put away cream/sugar, vacuumed the carpet... and set up again for the Vision Trip's ice cream social later tonight. Every Thursday night is the mandatory crew community meeting and I am looking forward to the worship and fellowship... and I get to help serve ice cream for the entire crew afterwards.

So I'm learning that an 8-5 M-F job is not really 8-5... it's more like 8-whenever everyone is gone, the daily new crew tour is done, the dishes are washed, and the furniture is set back up. But at least we girls do it together. We joke around a lot and try to make the day more fun... long days, hard work, but I enjoy it... although I'm sure I will be very tired of making cookies by the end of the summer!

*Hospitatlity department--we keep people happy. If we do our job right, you'll never even know we exist...*

long day... :-)

Yesterday was quite a day...

7am - wake up, get dressed without waking the others and head up to breakfast (toast and tea)
7:45am - International Lounge on forward Deck 6 for crew devotions with a visiting speaker. Good session
8:30am - Queen's Lounge on aft Deck 7 for New Crew Training. The Captain briefed us on the safety systems on board, what to do during fire drills (hint), how to submit safety concerns, and workplace and maritime safety.
10am - coffee break where the new crew met the deck and engineering officers. Never knew that so many people were responsible for the AC, lights, engines, and safety systems!
10:30am - back to the Queen's Lounge for more training. Learned about the off-ship programs and hospital programs.
Noon - lunch. Lunch is almost always leftovers from the dinner before. Just repackaged into some other dish. There isn't enough room in the galley fridges to store leftovers for use several days later.
12:45pm - Hospitality office for department devotions. These are good times to talk and relax with the other girls.
2pm - start pressing tablecloths and guest cabin bedding...all afternoon. I think I'm the only girl who doesn't mind it so much. (I will NEVER iron my own sheets... we do it for the guest cabins, but this experience has taught me that I will not take the effort with my own sheets when I run my own home!)
3pm - afternoon break. Run around to the Purser's office, the HR department, and Finance office to fill out paperwork and turn in forms and set up accounts.
3:15pm - back to the ironing press.
4:30pm - set up the midships Deck 6 area for a reception that night. Place cookies on trays, arrange fancy napkins and coffee cups, get the juice and water pitchers ready to be filled after dinner.
5pm - dinner. The best meal I've had so far. Coconut rice, canned peas (not my favorite, but they're OK), curry chicken, fresh pinapple, and an African mango a little smaller than a football (these things are ginormous and are so amazing!!!!) Took my food up 3 flights of stairs and out to Deck 8. Pulled a plastic chair off the stack and sat overlooking the stern towards the ocean. Gorgeous view, the sun was starting to set (it's fully down by like 7pm). Much needed time alone.
6pm - walked the dock with Abi, Jenny, and Melissa (another girl I met in January at Mercy Ships orientation. She works in the off-ship dental clinic)
7pm - shadowed Caitlin from my department as she gave a new crew tour. It takes almost an hour to do the tour... this ship is huge and there are a lot of places to show new crew.
8pm - settle down in the Deck 5 cafe with my laptop to do some blogging. Satellite connection is super slow and it keeps kicking me off the internet. Jenny and Abi walk by so we decide to watch a movie together. We end up talking afterwards until 11pm! I'm so glad they're here!
11:30pm - collapse in bed and set the alarm for 6:30 this morning...

So yeah. My days are pretty full... I get off this weekend for both Sat and Sun. On Saturday I'm going to a local orphanage and on Sunday afternoon I'm going to an annual craft fair in Lome. I'm so excited to get off this dock--haven't been off the ship except to walk the dock and take trash to the container at the end of the pier... getting a little antsy...

*Life is good. God is awesome. Coffee keeps me sane.*

weird vs. different

There have been a lot of new things to get used to here on the Africa Mercy.

  • The keyboards in the internet cafe are European ones. Nothing much is different except that SHIFT+2 is not "@", it's switched with the double quotation marks that normally reside on SHIFT+'. Also, instead of $ there are the € Euro and £ Pound symbols
  • All the electrical outlets are the european 3-prong ones. This I expected, but I forgot that they aren't normally near the floor like they are in the US and that you have to flip a switch on the individual outlet for it to turn on.
  • When you walk up the stairs on the right side you're liable to run into someone... not every country observes the "walk on the right" thing
  • The dock is paved with interlocking paving stones... which collect ginormous puddles after it rains. Which is almost every day. Every time I've walked the dock I've had to avoid large puddles of dirty water... and the large rats that remind me of Templeton
  • Boxed milk. Thankfully this self-stable white substance that could probably last through a nuclear holocaust (family joke) is not vanilla flavored like the stuff we used to get in Singapore. It's usually cold, so it's not too bad when you add it to your tea or coffee... I'm having a hard time with the cereal thing though
  • There are many different "brands" of English. In the Hospitatlity department there are 4 Americans, one Brit, and one Slovak (is that what you call someone from Slovakia?) We understand each other pretty well, but I sometimes have to stop and remember that we call things "serviettes" (table napkins) and "hoovers" (vacuums)
  • Most of the crew are "hot climate people." This means that they are relationship-oriented instead of task or time-oriented. Sometimes you can put something in the crew galley fridge with your name on it and it will still be gone... everything is shared. And a few people will tell you "yes" when they really mean "no;" they don't want to let you down.
*isn't not "weird," it's just "different"*

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Into the West

The last couple nights have been hard to sleep. I don't feel the rocking until I sit down on a hard surface, stand for a while... or when I lie down... 

Also, my bunk is right near our cabin's bathroom, and I hear the toilet flush for all the cabins above/below mine and all the cabins on both sides... that's a lot of toilets! BTW, they're on a vacuum system, much like the ones you'd find on an airplane, so they're rather noisy. 

So between the rocking, the toilets, and the endless faint alarms from random machinery all throughout the ship it can be hard to sleep. My calves are so sore from all the stairs, but my brain's not tired. (This will be rectified once I start studying for the GRE test) 

The last two nights I've been so grateful for my MP3 player and the Lord of the Rings soundtracks. I've put "Into the West" from Return of the King on repeat and eventually I fall asleep. But as I've listened to these lyrics over and over I've come to see that they really could apply to life here on the ship...

Lay down
Your sweet and weary head
Night is falling
You have come to journey's end

Sleep now
And dream of the ones who came before
They are calling
From across the distant shore

Why do you weep?
What are these tears upon your face?
Soon you will see
All of your fears will pass away
Safe in my arms
You're only sleeping

What can you see
On the horizon?
Why do those white gulls call?
Across the sea
A pale moon rises
The ships have come
To carry you home

Dawn will turn to silver glass
A light on the water
All souls pass

Hope fades
Into the world of night
Through shadows falling
Out of memory and time

Don't say
We have come now to the end
White shores are calling
You and I will meet again
And you'll be here in my arms
Just sleeping

What can you see
On the horizon?
Why do those white gulls call?
Across the sea
A pale moon rises
The ships have come
To carry you home

And all will turn to silver glass
A light on the water
Grey ships pass
Into the West 

where I live...

Well, it's high time I show you around the Africa Mercy... for a more complete tour, go to and search for the 10-minute video. (Sorry I can't give you the exact link, I'm not allowed to get on youtube on board the ship... it chews up bandwith on the ship's satellite connection)

So... you walk up the gangway and into reception on Deck 5 (pics later)... down the big red flight of stairs (red's in the bow, blue stairs in the aft) and onto Deck 3. This is what you see when you come down the stairs. Deck 3 houses the entire hospital and the bow is full of cabins.
There are two hallways per deck, one on either side of the picture. So, if you take the left hallway, and keep going towards the bow, you come to the crew nurse's and crew physician's offices, the off-ship dental team's office, and this lovely door to the cabin part of Deck 3. Ward E is up near the cabins.. it's used for eye surgery patients.
Just past the door on the left side of the hallway you'll see my cabin door. Yesterday the Hospitatlity dept put a NCM notice ("notification of new crew member") on our door... we're getting our 6th roommate this weekend.

The halls look like this... metal bulkheads... gotta love using magnets to hang everything!!!! The emergency fire team 3 muster station is right outside my door.. :-)

And this incredibly confusing drawing shows where I live

I'll try to post pictures of my actual cabin... for now, just know it's very small and not a girl's dream in term of closest storage... but it's home and quite comfy as long as you're not claustrophobic!

*getting lost is quite fun... the farthest away from your cabin you can be is 7 decks and 500'!*

Sunday, June 13, 2010

First day...

OK, so here I am. 8:31pm... cup of Starbucks in hand... in my thermos from Singapore, I must add...

Let me give you a rundown since I got off the plane last night:

~ 7pm - land in Lome, Togo
~ 8pm - get through immigration and customs (they re-xrayed the bags... perhaps only as a semblance of security, since there really was no need... I just got into Togo!)
~8:30pm - arrive on the dock in Lome port; it was a crazy ride from the airport. Kind of like there were two lanes each way, but more like 3 lanes of traffic and motor scooters everywhere. that's the gist... There were people crowding around shops watching the world cup on TV... and our driver said most of the ship crew were watching the US vs. England game aboard the ship. :-) 
~8:45pm - walk up the Africa Mercy gangway, drop off my bags in the dining room under a sign with my name and cabin number, and sit down to dinner... tuna noodle cassarole, rice pudding, and watermelon.
9:30pm - fill in paperwork, get my picture taken for my ID badge, get my room key and head to my two of my cabinmates, Silke and Damaris, both from Germany
10pm - collapse into bed completely exhausted... but still very much awake... put in headphones and listened to Lord of the Rings soundtracks on really low volume until I finally fell asleep. The cabin's pitch black because our deck has no portholes and it was super quiet... and to my lovely surprise, the bed is a twin XL... gotta love that 96" to stretch out!

8am - alarm goes off, hit the snooze... breakfast is until 9am anyway
8:15am - finally get out of bed and head up to deck 5 for breakfast... bacon, scrambled eggs, biscuits, juice, and cereal (boxed milk, btw)... made a sandwich for lunch b/c the galley is off duty for lunch on weekends. sit down to eat and finish at about 8:55 when another couple I met in on the plane comes up and sits at my table. They seem in no hurry for the mandatory tour at 9am... come to find out I had set my alarm for 7am not 8! Haha... gotta love my time zone calculations at 10pm after traveling for 2 days... 
9am - get a tour of the ship... it's huge... maybe I'll take a picture of the deck plans and post it here... basically there are a ton of stairs, some only lead to certain decks. I'm on aft deck 3... hospital is stern deck 3. More cabins on deck 4. Main entry, dining room, and Starbucks cafe is on deck 5. Internet cafe on deck 6 as is laundry. Deck 7 has access to the outside, and deck 8 is the crew-only outdoor deck (and the still-unfinished pool).
11am - journal some, have devos., get online in the internet cafe, and talk some with Abi and Jenny
12:30pm - we three meet up with Ruth, a nurse from NZ who was on our plane from Paris... decide to eat our lunches outside on deck 7.
2:30pm - unpack and meet my top bunkmate just moving in. Julie's a nurse from NZ too.
3:30pm - back up to deck 7 for some fresh air. I'm falling asleep so I just watch the rain come down and feel the ship roll a little more with the larger waves. Talk with the Frances, and the other Ruth, two older ladies I met from the plane.
5pm - dinner. Met Rhonda and Brittany, two best friend nurses from Canada... "sloppy joes," baked beans, corn/peas, and sandwich leftovers
7pm - got online via wifi finally. FB, email... Starbucks cafe opened and hence the coffee...

I start work tomorrow. Orientation at 9am... I'm looking forward to learning the ship well enough to give tours... but all those stairs are going to be grueling...

*I love it here*

Pictures from the flights...

This was at like 6:10am... way too early...

All checked in at DFW... 10am

Sunset somewhere over Virginia

In Dulles.. boarding for Paris

At one point we had a tail wind of 85 mph... gotta love the jet stream!

Sun's just coming up... somewhere over the UK

Sunrise over France

See... even United Airlines serves Starbucks... Gotta love the green lady with long flowing locks...

My first view of France. It was super cloudy, but I happened to get this view of the green farmland...

I'm in France!

It was raining in Paris... a slow, gray drizzle

We found freshly-squeezed orange juice, comfy chairs, and a cute bistro... and un-free internet... :P

In Paris!!!!